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Friday, July 31, 2009

Transitional American Empire-Rococo Revival Sofa ca.1855

The third piece I am currently working on is a sofa dating to somewhere between 1845 and 1860. The style is called transitional meaning that it contains design elements from two separate furniture styles and was probably made during the years when one style was transitioning into the next.
What is known largely as the Victorian period of furniture making saw a huge change in the way that furniture was manufactured. the Victorian era coincided with the Industrial Revolution. As a result, many processes that were once done by hand were being accomplished with the aid of specialized machines in factories.

With the use of machines, several things became possible. First, ornamental pieces could be produced quickly and reproduced exactly. The use of templates and duplication equipment allowed furniture makers to offer the same piece on a larger scale. Second, with the aid of these machines and early milling machines furniture could be produced faster than in previous generations.
With these innovations came the ability for furniture designers to create furniture that was ornate and complex. What arose was several revival movements that happened in quick succession. As makers moved from one style to another, they often mixed and matched using design elements from previous movements. Because of this, it is often hard to place a particular piece in one style. One can simply call it Victorian, and be done with it, or they can describe the different elements within the piece and identify the styles employed.
In the case of this sofa, It contains many design elements of the later American Empire period. Most notably are the crotch veneer used on the apron and the overall design of the piece. the Rococo Revival design elements are seen in the serpentine shape of the apron and crest rail and the floral carvings on the crest rail. During the Empire movement, Mahogany was the wood of choice, and during the Rococo Revival movement and later the wood of favor was Walnut. Because of the mixing of all of these elements and the construction methods used for the framework I would date this piece to around 1855.
When researching this piece I came across a photo of another sofa which was auctioned a year ago. While the fabric and Upholstery style are different, the carvings and the overall sofa are exactly the same. Here is a link to the auction site:

If you look closely at the carvings on the piece you can see they are exact duplicates of the carvings on the piece I am working on. this indicates the use of machines to create the carvings.

The sofa as it came to me was in need of new upholstery as well as refinishing. Below I have included some photos of the removal of the upholstery and finish as well as some repairs to the piece.
The framework used wooden slats as a bottom instead of webbing. the springs were attached directly to the slats.

A photo of the frame with all of the upholstery removed and the carving element removed.

Repairing a break in the right arm carving.

Repairing a break in the crest rail.

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